capsule review

Nisus Writer Pro 2.0.2 full of power features

At a Glance
  • Nisus Software Nisus Writer Pro 2.0.2

    Macworld Rating

As I worked on this review and reacquainted myself with Nisus Writer Pro, again and again I wrote a note about something I thought Nisus Writer Pro couldn’t do, and again and again I discovered that I was wrong. Here’s the executive summary: Nisus Writer Pro is a word processing power tool. This power does require a bit of effort to master, but compared to Microsoft Word ( ), Nisus Writer Pro is remarkably user friendly.

Big sis, little sis

Nisus Writer Pro has a little sister, Nisus Writer Express. The version numbering is confusingly out of sync, but Nisus Writer Pro 2 contains exactly the same basic editing features found in Nisus Writer Express 3.4.

The difference is that Nisus Writer Pro provides a number of features for advanced users. Nisus Writer Pro’s Mail merge and drawing tools may appeal to every day business users. Features like indexing and table-of-contents generation, bookends support, bookmarks, and cross references will appeal mainly to scholars and professional writers who work with long, complicated documents. The ability to export documents in ePub format or save PDFs with tables of contents and links will appeal to anybody who creates e-documents. Nisus Writer Pro’s support for track changes and comments may be useful for collaborative work. Both versions of Nisus Writer support macros and Nisus’s uniquely powerful find and replace tools, but Nisus Writer Pro provides some advanced tweaks to these features, too.

I’ve discussed the basic editing features common to both programs in my review of Nisus Writer Express ( ). In this review, I’ll concentrate on some of Nisus Writer Pro’s advanced features.

Power find and replace

I said a little about this in the Nisus Writer Express review but I want to expand on this, as it’s one of the really distinctive features of Nisus Writer and something that Nisus Writer Pro users in particular truly may find useful. Nisus Writer Pro has not one but three find and replace modes: Normal Find, PowerFind, and PowerFind Pro. Normal Find is what you’d expect, the basic find you have in Apple's Pages ( ) or TextEdit—to find “Texas” in the document, you look for “Texas”. Using PowerFind or PowerFind Pro is a whole ‘nother ball game. These tools let you create complicated finds by using markers that indicate things like position, number of times some letter or word is repeated, and so on. Say you want to find places in your text where “Texas” is followed by a zip code, so you can correct those addresses to use the two-letter abbreviation for the state (“TX”). Using PowerFind Pro and a technology called “regular expressions,” you’d look for texas( (\d){5}), which means “find ‘texas’, then a block of text starting with a space and followed by five numbers in a row.” And you’d replace it with TX\1, which means “TX” followed by everything found by the first pair of parentheses in the find expression (that is, the space and the five numbers). This would fix the problem in a 200-page document in a second or two.

Neat trick, if you know how to do it. But most of us don’t and regular expressions can be daunting—there are long, challenging books on the subject. Now, basic regular expressions like the example above are fairly easy. The Nisus Writer Pro user manual provides a pretty good reference guide on the subject, if you want to learn. But Nisus Writer Pro makes it a little easier by giving you a way to construct your find using menus. Pictured below is the Find/Replace dialog using PowerFind Pro and a conventional regular expression.

Power Find Pro: Nisus Writer Pro supports regular expressions, a technology for defining complex finds in text documents. You can type your regular expression into the find and replace fields if you know how to, or you can use the drop-down menus attached to the gear icons to get help from a menu. Even with the help, this is an advanced option and making use of it involves a little study.

And here’s what the dialog looks like if you build it in ordinary PowerFind (not PowerFind Pro).

PowerFind: The regular PowerFind feature in Nisus Writer Pro lets you build regular expressions using building blocks that are slightly less abstract than a conventional regular expression.

It might not be obvious, but take it from someone who’s thrown himself at Jeffrey Friedl’s excellent book on Regular Expressions several times, with minimal effect: Using Nisus Writer Express’s PowerFind feature is great. The point, however, is that the power is there for the taking, and Nisus Writer Pro almost makes it easy.

More power to you

I built a merge letter in Nisus Writer Pro and generated the output as individual PDFs (one per letter) in about two minutes, drawing addresses from my Address Book, and I didn’t have to consult the users guide. Entering the merge fields in Pages was equally easy but it took me a little longer to figure out how to generate the output. And Pages lacks the option to generate a number of independent output files.

Giving different numbering streams to elements in a file (Table 8, Figure 37, Figure 38, Table 9, Figure 39, Table 10…) was one of those things that I thought at first Nisus Writer Pro couldn’t do. Well, it can, although sorting this out required an email to Nisus support followed by a careful look at the documentation. Setting up an index is pretty straightforward.

Outline: Nisus Writer Pro offers a styles-based “table of contents” pane that shows the structure of your document in outline format. The table of contents view is editable—you can drag a heading to a different position and content underneath it will follow. And the pane doubles as a quick way of navigating through a long document.

Nisus Writer Pro doesn’t have the same kind of outline view that Pages and Word have, the kind where the outline grows organically into the final document. This could be a problem for some users. Nisus Writer Pro’s approach—a special outline pane that shows headings only—is good enough for me and less of a hassle to use. You can move headings and the text below them around easily by dragging the heading in the Table of Contents pane, also known as the Navigator. It lets you see the outline and your actual text simultaneously, and the Navigator makes it a breeze to jump from chapter 14 to chapter 2 of a long document.

The power of Nisus Writer Pro (and Nisus Writer Express) is extended by a small library of macros, including one that converts footnotes to body text; another that copies email addresses from a document and places them in a separate list; and a slew of macros that perform math calculations on table columns and rows. I regret to add that writing your own macros is not as easy as I would like.

Share and share alike?

Nisus Writer Pro 2 now supports comments and tracks changes made in a document. Commenting and change tracking work in Nisus Writer Pro pretty much as they do in Word or Pages, except better. These features are way easier to use in Nisus Writer Pro than in Word, and I love the way that Nisus Writer Pro takes advantage of my iMac’s wide screen and puts the comments pane on one side of the main editing area and the change tracking pane on the other.

I did a number of back-and-forth exchanges with other apps that also support comments and change tracking. My tentative conclusions are that this is a really difficult problem, and Nisus Writer Pro hasn’t yet solved it perfectly.

The problems arise when files are moved from Nisus Writer Pro to something else, and then back. I tried to get Nisus Writer Pro to collaborate with Microsoft Word, both on a PC and on a Mac. Files translated back and forth fairly well but not perfectly; I ran into annoying little problems with styles and formatting. Comments were maintained fairly reliably, but the tracking of changes didn’t always survive a conversion. I also did some quick tests with Pages, which also tracks comments and changes. I was not able to get Nisus Writer Pro to collaborate with Pages reliably. My guess is that getting Pages and Nisus Writer Pro to work collaboratively is a little like getting an Eskimo and an Ethiopian to communicate by using English translators: a bit risky. Unfortunately there is little info in the documentation about how to work collaboratively with a Word user, or about what file formats or versions of Word work best.

Track Changes: Nisus Writer Pro's change tracking and comments features will be familiar to anyone who’s used the same features in Pages or Microsoft Word. Nisus Writer Pro places comments and changes on different sides of the document for clarity.

There is another kind of sharing: Sharing with your iPad. Nisus Writer Pro does not have a counterpart for the iPad. I was able to export a Nisus Writer Pro in Word (.doc) format, move it to my iPad and edit it in Pages.

(Mostly) picture perfect

Nisus Writer Pro does a fabulous job handling text in almost every way you can think of. It handles pictures and graphics, too, and pretty well, most of the time. I had occasional problems figuring out why a picture wouldn’t stay put. While I’d personally want to test Nisus Writer Pro even more thoroughly before using it to write a book containing lots of graphics, it worked well enough for me in the shorter documents that I created in it.

Macworld’s buying advice

I’m disappointed by the difficulties I had maintaining changes and comments while exchanging documents with Word users. But in other respects, Nisus Writer Pro 2.0.0 impressed me so much that I may begin to go to it rather than Pages for most of my writing. True, Pages does a fair bit of what Nisus Writer Pro does and costs less. But Nisus Writer Pro’s higher price is still not unreasonable. And there are things about Nisus Writer Pro’s user interface (like writing in Draft View) and about its special features (including PowerFind) that I, at least, find hard to resist. And although I don’t need Nisus Writer Pro’s long-document features often, I think it makes sense to spend a few more dollars and get Nisus Writer Pro. On the other hand, if you love the Nisus Writer user interface including the powerful find feature but don’t need the other power-user features, take a look at Nisus Writer Express instead.

[William Porter is a database developer and photographer who lives and works in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, daughter, dogs and cats—every last one of them female.]

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Unrivaled find and replace tools
    • Clean user interface
    • Advanced features for power users
    • Uses RTF as default file format

    Cons

    • Tracks changes loses reliability with other apps
    • No conventional outline feature
    • No iPad counterpart
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